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Vancouver Travel Guide

The Layover: How to Spend a Perfect Day in Vancouver, Canada

How to experience the highlights of Vancouver’s spectacular scenery and local foods in just one day.

The largest city on Canada’s west coast, in the province of British Columbia, Vancouver revels in its mountain- and sea-side location, laidback lifestyle, an abundance of things to do, and delicious foods to eat. Whether you’re visiting before or after an Alaskan cruise, on a day trip from Seattle, or on a layover en route to Asia or Australia, it’s still possible to get a good taste of Vancouver in just one day.

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Breakfast on Lavender Lattes and Waffles at Café Medina

Start your day at Vancouver’s brunch institution, Café Medina. To start, order a lavender latte, made with lavender sourced from a nearby farm. Its slightly minty, rosemary floral notes combine with the coffee’s acidity and bitterness for a surprisingly delicious balance. Those with a sweet tooth will want Medina’s Liege-style waffles with maple syrup or mixed berry compote on the side, though the passionfruit sauce will make your tastebuds sing. If you prefer savory, order the Harissa “Burger” with harissa-spiced beef, fried eggs, and hummus in a grilled pita.

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Stroll the Seawall into Stanley Park

Stanley Park is a green oasis larger than New York City’s Central Park (and named after the same guy the Stanley Cup was named for). The 1000-acre park sits at the western end of Vancouver’s downtown peninsula and is residents’ and visitors’ favorite place for a walk or bike ride. The Seawall surrounds the park, with a 17-mile paved walking path that’s the longest uninterrupted waterfront walkway in the world. It starts next to the cruise ship terminal, passes by the Olympic Cauldron, and circles Stanley Park before looping around False Creek and then out to the beaches at Spanish Banks.

From the Seawall, you have a chance of seeing whales swim by, as well as spotting more common harbor seals and great blue herons. From the forest trails inside the park, look for beaver, ducks, and Canada geese in Lost Lagoon and the occasional bald eagle, coyote, raccoon, or (friendly) skunk within the giant cedars and Douglas firs. Please don’t feed any of them—it’s bad for their health.

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Board the Passenger Ferry to Granville Island

Along the Seawall at False Creek are several spots to catch the Aquabus or False Creek Ferries. These tiny passenger ferries will take you to several docks around this inlet full of sailboats and kayakers (they’ll happily take you on a tour throughout False Creek too).

With its Public Market, boutiques, artisan studios, two breweries, a distillery, and the first artisan sake maker in Canada, Granville Island is the most popular stop.

Stroll the island (really a sandspit) for artisan products and foods to bring home or eat here. Railspur Alley is the center for artists’ studios—keep your eye out for shops owned by Indigenous Peoples, such as Wickaninnish Gallery. Children will love the Kids Market and nearby playground, or you can stop by the Sea Village to check out the floating houses.

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Lunch at Granville Island Public Market

At Granville Island’s Edible Canada shop, pick up Canadian treats like Vancouver’s Temper Chocolates’ caramelized almond bar and, of course, maple syrup. The market has culinary tours, too. Edible Canada’s next door restaurant offers upscale dining and cocktails featuring ingredients from across the country. Or, try the more casual Popina Canteen, created by four of Vancouver’s best chefs and featuring the foods they crave—fried chicken, lobster rolls, Dungeness crab, BC shrimp, and more.

INSIDER TIPPeruse the Public Market stalls for a picnic lunch. Terra Breads has the best baguettes in town, Oyama Sausage Co. is famous for its charcuterie and patés, and Benton Brothers Fine Cheese has an exceptionally-curated selection (try the goat goudas from local cheesemaker Smits and Co.w).


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Local History With a View

Board the tiny False Creek Ferries from the Granville Island pier and sail to the Vancouver Maritime Museum stop. Walk east into Vanier Park to the Museum of Vancouver to learn about Vancouver’s history and its Indigenous peoples. Did you know the city sits on the unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations? Admire the surrounding mountains and imagine what the area would have been like when it was covered in trees.

If you have time, stroll west to admire Kitsilano Beach (just call it Kits, though), the immense outdoor saltwater Kits Pool, and the views of the mountains and English Bay. To learn more about Canada’s Indigenous peoples, take a taxi to the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, which has indigenous artifacts from the region and the world.

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See All of Canada in 8 Minutes

Back downtown at Canada Place cruise terminal, visit FlyOver Canada to see the entire country in eight minutes. Suspended in the air in front of a 65-foot spherical screen, you’ll fly from coast to coast to coast, over Niagara Falls, and over other iconic parts of the world’s second largest country.

INSIDER TIPBuy your ticket in advance to minimize your wait in line. Wander around Canada Place for tidbits of Canadiana and to admire the views across Coal Harbour to the North Shore mountains. Next door to Canada Place near the Olympic Cauldron, you’ll find the Digital Orca, the statue by Generation X author Douglas Coupland that looks like it’s made of Lego. It’s a reminder of the importance of protecting the endangered southern resident killer whales that spend their summers near Vancouver.


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Have a Gas in Gastown

The neighborhood next to downtown and the cruise ship terminal is Gastown, named for John “Gassy Jack” Deighton (he was very chatty, not the other kind of gassy). Gastown is a mix of cobblestoned streets, Victorian architecture, hip boutiques (ignore the few touristy shops), art galleries, and some of the city’s best eateries. After you’ve checked out the Steam Clock and the statue of Gassy Jack himself, wander through Blood Alley (just the site of former butchers, not public executions, despite what many tour guides will tell you).

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Watch the Sun Set Into the Sea

Vancouver is known for its vibrant sunsets over English Bay, and in the summer the sun isn’t down until well after 9 p.m. (if you’re here in winter, you’ll want to watch the sunset before even thinking about dinner). Those who don’t want to wander out of Gastown to have a look should take the glass elevator up to the Vancouver Lookout and watch the sunset (and the rest of the 360° view) from 548 feet in the air.

INSIDER TIPThe best spot to watch outdoors is, not surprisingly, Sunset Beach near Stanley Park. The Olympic Inukshuk statue near there makes a fine photo with English Bay and the pink and orange sky in the background. 


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Unleash Your Inner Carnivore at Wildebeest

For dinner, try Wildebeest. This farm-to-table restaurant features the best of BC. You’ll certainly find the province’s famous seafood, but this restaurant is especially loved by carnivores. Choose to dine omakase-style—letting the chef order for you—but be sure to request the bone marrow paired with the Sherry Bone Luge to start (no hints, just order it). Wildebeest also serves nine different varieties of the Old Fashioned—classic and refashioned.

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Have a Drink by the World’s Best Bartender

To make your perfect day in Vancouver last, have a nightcap by Kaitlyn Stewart. She’s the only Canadian and only the second woman to win the World’s Best Bartender competition (in 2017). Sample her award-winning talents at downtown’s Royal Dinette, another of Vancouver’s fabulous farm-to-table restaurants (do your best to find room for a snack or dessert to pair with your cocktail). Kumbaya, with its Spirit Fire cherry cedar bitters, smoked rye, and a burnt cinnamon marshmallow, is quintessentially Vancouver.

If you’re not yet ready for bed, or perhaps have the midnight flight from Vancouver to Sydney, check out live music venues like the Commodore Ballroom along the downtown stretch of Granville Street.

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Get Some Rest

Have an overnight in Vancouver? Parq Vancouver, with its two luxury hotels (boutique property The DOUGLAS and a JW Marriott), is one of the newest properties in the city, with a roof garden and rooms looking out over False Creek and the crown-like BC Place stadium. Skwachàys Lodge is ideal for the ethical traveler; it’s full of indigenous art and leads several social development programs.

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Getting to the Airport

The Skytrain’s Canada Line is the quickest and cheapest way of getting to and from the airport; the line begins near the cruise ship terminal. Before your flight, admire the art at YVR including the cedar Clayoquot Welcome Figures, Bill Reid’s Jade Canoe (look for it on old versions of the $20 bill), and the Orca Chief and the Kelp Forest that sits above a giant fish tank.

And if your YVR layover is only a few hours? Pop over to Origo Club, less than 10 minutes from the airport. This offshoot of the famous Beijing private club has fine French dining amongst Asian art. Or pick up a takeout croissant and coffee from Origo’s café for a fresh air stroll along the Fraser River.

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